The Fourth Estate

In European tradition, the Commons, the Clergy and the Nobility are seen as the three estates of the realm.

In The French Revolution: a History (1837), the Scottish political historian Thomas Carlyle wrote: "A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up, increases and multiplies; irrepressible, incalculable." Four years later, in On Heroes and Hero Worship, he wrote: "Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all." Burke, an Irish–born Whig MP, was speaking in a parliamentary debate in 1787 (subsequent to the French Revolution) on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons.

It would seem, therefore, that the term was coined by Burke but brought to wider attention by Carlyle, who saw the press as instrumental to the birth and growth of democracy, spreading facts and opinions and sparking revolution against tyranny.

© Haydn Thompson 2017